Calendrically speaking

I have always been a big fan of paper calendars. But when it comes to teaching, there are many things I need to put on a calendar that are the same from semester to semester. My solution recently has been creating a spreadsheet calendar, putting in these recurring items (grade primary sources, grade Writing Assignment III, etc), then printing it out and writing in the dates.

After almost three decades working with Microsoft products, I could not figure out how to get the pages to print correctly.

Why do I need such a calendar, when the LMS has its own calendar? For the first time since Blackboard days, I will be teaching in three different systems: MiraCosta’s Canvas (two classes), MiraCosta’s Moodle (four classes), and free Canvas (one class). This is how I will transition from Moodle to Canvas over the next 18 months.

The Canvas and Moodle calendars, plus my own grading calendar, would need to be in the same place to do this electronically. So today I used the URL from the Canvas and Moodle calendars, and put them into Google’s calendar, then added my grading tasks.

Both LMSs, unfortunately, export the full calendar (all classes), not each class – this is a problem because Google imports them all as one calendar, with all tasks in the same color regardless of which class it is. I wanted a separate Google calendar for each class. Luckily, I was able to solve this for Canvas by exporting each course’s calendar from Student View, as recommended by Chris Long in the Canvas Community. There is no way to do this for Moodle, but it didn’t matter, because both sections are of the same class and on the same calendar.

Now I have all tasks in one place, accessible on my phone or on computer.

I’ve never not used a paper calendar of some kind (yes, I know, call me steampunky), so we’ll see how it goes.

Canvas But Cool: Embedding Announcements

I hope to start a series of posts here on things I’m doing in Canvas, but that are cool anyway. Some will be workarounds, some ideas for making things look better, some techniques born out of utter frustration.

None will be as brilliant as what Laura Gibbs is doing at the University of Oklahoma  – she’s got LOL Cats rotating through her Canvas pages using a cool javascript. But her work inspires me and encourages me to find things that are Canvas…But Cool.

My first concerns Announcements. In Moodle (many of my posts will start “In Moodle”, an approach dreaded by many in the Canvas Community) I could just paste Announcements in at the top of the main page, and copy or adapt them into Latest News for instant emailing to all. In Canvas, the Announcements page is decidedly a separate thing. If I don’t want announcements to be the main Home page, they won’t be obvious except by email or other notifications.

But I don’t want to post twice, once in Announcements and once by editing the Home Page. I want the Announcements to dynamically appear on the Home page, where I want them to. So I followed the wonderful instructions posted halfway down this page at the Canvas Community (I’d love to link directly to the post, but you can’t do that there), posted by Sharmaine Regisford with thanks to others.


1. First, post an Announcement in your class (I just did a welcome message).

2. Grab the feed URL for the announcements by going to the Announcements page and right-clicking on the RSS symbol (it won’t be there if you didn’t post a first Announcement).

The URL should end with .atom.

3. Go to FeedWind at

4. In the spot, paste in the feed URL.

5. Choose your settings. I like 1 feed height, scrollbar on, autoscroll off, text-only, max length 132 characters.

6. Grab the regular code from the right side, not the iframe code.

7. Start a new text document on your computer and paste the code.

8. Save the file as .html.  

9. Go to Canvas and open Files. Upload the .html file you just created to your Canvas course files. Once it’s there, mouse over the name of it to find the document number – write it down somewhere.

10. Go to the page where you want the Announcements to appear. Switch to HTML editor.

11. Paste this in:

<iframe title=”Course Announcements” src=”/courses/#######/files/#########/download” width=”100%” height=”112″></iframe>

In this example the first ####### is your course number and the second ######### is the file number.

The course number is in the URL of your Canvas course:

So for this example, that would be:

<iframe title=”Course Announcements” src=”/courses/6660/files/57294/download” width=”100%” height=”112″></iframe>

The result is an iframe on your page that will always show the most recent announcement (so long as you chose that on the settings at FeedWind).

Update: As of this week, Canvas provides the option to add announcements to the top of your home page. Not as pretty, but it works:

You know you’re working in Canvas when…

You start changing the names of assignmentcanvaspss to things like “L1” so you can squeeze the column smaller in the gradebook.

You keep looking for the arrow button on the toolbar because there’s so little available.

You just lost 95% of the custom class syllabus page because you tried to comment out everything after the first week.

You check the boxes on the Import Content page in slow motion because last time you wiped out the whole course.

You search all over the site for the section that lets you allow students to upload files, then find it as an inconspicuous link at the very bottom of the main Settings page.

You look for published images to steal instead of uploading your own because putting in a URL is so much easier than trying to upload, find and embed an image file.canvaslinks

Your idea of hell becomes a place where you’re faced with a list of dark green hyperlinks.

You stop allowing revisions of anything in a forum because SpeedGrader makes finding them impossible.

You give up on the idea of trying to link to a specific post in a forum because it’s too complicated.

You get an eye doctor appointment to deal with not being able to see the blue “unread” dots in the forums.

You spend time on support with your ISP trying to figure out how to create secure web pages so they can be embedded, only to find that the javascript you have on that page won’t work when embedded anyway.

You give up trying to embed SSL web pages and let everything link out.

You get a bad sprain from overusing the scroll wheel.

You start creating things inside the system even though you know better.

You think of the tasks of your life in terms of “Previous” and “Next”.


Perils of the OEI Rubric

As you may know, our campus is going over to Canvas from a two-LMS system (Blackboard in house, Moodle outsourced). I have, of course, deep concerns about Canvas as an LMS. But it isn’t just Canvas. It is Canvas sponsored by the state of California through their Online Education Initiative. Back in April, I commented on that arrangement. While I have discussed at my college how it’s being implemented, I haven’t posted on it yet.

Although not required at this time for the colleges adopting the free state-sponsored Canvas, there is a rubric and a review team for any course that will be offered on the “exchange”. The ultimate goal is to have any California community college online class count for credit at any other, a goal I have supported since, oh, 1998.

The 2015 rubric is hereoeichunked, and has been implemented fiercely. I have already spoken with faculty who have been told that the materials they set up for sound pedagogical reasons will not do — they must be changed to provide students simpler, clearer pathways and simple downloadable materials. The intent is clearly to reduce the complexity of all online classes in order for them to be seen as “excellent” by OEI.

Complexity, of course, may be a pedagogical goal in itself. Pathways to learning are not always in straight lines, either in education or in the working world. Exploration may need to be encouraged. Perhaps the instructor doesn’t want to provide too much guidance, in order to force discovery.

In some cases cognitive dissonance is being confused with cognitive overload. If a student has to click around to find something, this may cause some frustration but it may also created learning. Learning is not clean – it is messy.

Having gotten some pushback, OEI is now revising that rubric. But it isn’t really any better. Here is my annotation of that rubric (my comments are in the right-hand column). At this point, they seem to be only taking internal feedback, so all I can really do is post it here.

Some faculty are going ahead and doing whatever they want, and their dedication to offering their course on the exchange is admirable. Enforced pedagogy, however, is not my style.

The Monsters of Canvas

Goya, The Sleep of Reason Begents Monsters (1798)

Francisco Goya, The Sleep of Reason Begets Monsters (1798)


We all know that in any system, there are things that go wrong or are difficult to use. We all know people who love their previous LMS, and will hate whatever they’re forced to change to. We all know that learning curves are something we need to ride, trying not to fall off. We journey on…

But occasionally a system begets monsters.

Here are some of the early monsters of Canvas, and the brutality committed to your hard work:

Code Stripping Beast – If Canvas doesn’t like your code, your Javascript or your HTML commenting, it strips it. Other LMSs do that too. But Canvas is monstrous in that it eats everything within your naive HTML commenting, deleting the content between the tags. There is no warning that it will do this.

Quiz Question Ogre  – If you change a question in a Question Bank, it does not change the questions in any quizzes you’ve created. You might not know this, and go blithely along thinking it has.

Disappearance Dragon – Things other than code mysteriously disappear. If you’ve created a page and linked it on other pages, and you change the page’s name, Canvas can no longer find the file. After a few minutes, neither can you.

Structural Cyclops – Canvas is myopic about its own structure. If you page through a Module using “Next”, which is clearly intended as the default navigation, Canvas does not understand when the Module is done. It just continues into the next Module with no warning, necessitating that you design some form of “Start of Week x” and “End of Week x” pages to alert students so they know they’re done.

Transport Troll – You cannot move select items from one Canvas course into another, like the rubric you just spent three hours developing, or those “End of Week x” pages you made for each week. You have to remake rubrics for each course until you have it set to be saved for just that course. (Update: if both courses are within the same Canvas install, you can import particular content from another course – just don’t every use Export unless you want the whole course, and beware of the Set-Up Siren!)

Set-up Siren – Canvas seduces you with the idea that it can import. But it cannot import individual items you need, like that quiz set you backed up from another LMS.  Without any warning (something like “if you import, everything you’ve done will be erased”), it wipes out everything except its own content when you import, despite the deceptive list of imports implying you can do it more than once.

I’m sure I will find more of these in my Odyssey, a journey in a ship with sails made of Canvas.

Grade work, not students

It seems like a technology thing, but it isn’t. Of Moodle, Blackboard, and Canvas, only Moodle lets you grade posts, not students.

Bb and Canvas both let you use rubrics/ratings to grade discussions, but both want to grade by student rather than post. Canvas even forces you into one grade per student, regardless of how often they posted.

This is a perfect example of bad pedagogy embedded in the technology. It’s based on the idea of grading students, because students get the grades.

But I don’t grade students — I grade work. In forums for posting primary sources, I rate each source, using qualitative scales — primary source fulfilled, live link needed, full citation needed, etc. These correspond to number grades that go to the Gradebook, but what the student sees is the comment, indicating which corrections they need to make.

And in Moodle I can grade them all with drop downs, because a single, simple forum is all on one page. Super quick.

Bb and Canvas’ insistence on grading per student means several clicks per student, per class, every week, for every source posted. Bad pedagogy, bad workflow.

Perhaps if these LMSs considered that we were grading work rather than students, it wouldn’t be designed like this. When a student asks “did you grade me down?” or “when you grade me, remember I have four classes”, I always point out that I never grade them, only their work.

How did we get to a place where the default is to grade students? Is it our educational culture, associating a person’s work with who they are? Surely that’s a bad idea. When we conflate a person with their work, we imply that their work is not only a product of themselves, it is their self. Every critique become a critique of the self.

We mustn’t embed bad ideas into immutable systems. Really.